Families graduate from program

Published 11:01 pm Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Seven young children in white robes and mortarboards paraded into the East Suffolk Community Center with their mothers on Tuesday.

However, this wasn’t their kindergarten graduation — the youngsters and their mothers were celebrating their completion of the Healthy Families program.

“I’m a pleased member of Healthy Families,” Kendra Branch, 20, said. “I truly hope Healthy Families continues to strengthen.”

In all, 12 parent/child pairs graduated from the program Tuesday, though some couldn’t make it to the event. Healthy Families is a program that works with the Health Department and Sentara Obici Hospital, with funding from the state, the Department of Social Services and the Obici Health Care Foundation, to support first-time mothers in the child-rearing process.

Branch was 17 when she became pregnant with Alejiah, now 2 years old. After Alejiah’s birth, she found out about Healthy Families through the hospital.

The program supports first-time parents by providing in-home education and resources. A family worker visits once a week for the first six months of the child’s life, and then steps down to twice a month, then once a month, then once every three months. The workers help the new parents learn about discipline, healthy eating and sleeping for a child, the importance of introducing books at an early age and more. Some mothers qualify for additional help, including products such as diapers, wipes and car seats. The workers also check for developmental delays at specified points.

The program also encourages the mothers to meet their personal goals, particularly completing or continuing their education, Beverly McQuarry, a leader in Healthy Families, said.

“We see [the mom’s education] as important for children,” she said. “We encourage health care, make sure the family’s getting the well checks.”

Branch, who currently attends Old Dominion University with a major in pre-nursing, said the program has helped her learn to raise Alejiah.

“I believe that if more people knew about this program, especially young mothers, there would be a lot less hassle for the mothers,” Branch said.